Imagine a football field-sized atrium that simulates a park setting where employees and their pets coexist in a comfortable, productive work environment. Thats what San Diego-based Smith Consulting Architects did when they were approached by Petco to design its new San Diego National Service Center in Rancho Bernardo, Calif., that would consolidate the operations of eight facilities previously scattered across the county. The new headquarters has enabled Petco to standardize its equipment, office setups, and furnishings and to operate uniformly under one roof, while still allowing for customizations to fit employees needs.

Taking an enormous, 400-foot by 500-foot building within Rancho Bernardo Industrial Park previously occupied by Unysis Corporation as a micro-chip manufacturing facility, the full-service design firm created a 300,000-square-foot, two-level campus, 63,000 square feet of which is on a level below the existing grade. Key to making this former industrial space into office space was providing abundant natural daylight by installing skylights throughout the facility, and replacing the solid concrete exterior walls with glass curtainwalls. With input from Petcos executive team comprised of a representative from each department, Smith Consulting Architects performed the site planning, shell redesign, and interior design.

Whiting Turner, general contractor for the project, began work in mid-July 2014 and recently completed construction. Petcos Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Mark Hilborn provided oversight of the project, with Mike Rosen, director of Corporate Facilities & Services, as the onsite project manager.

The project design embodies Petcos values of collaboration, community, sustainability, and pet-friendly environments, while addressing the needs of a workforce that is becoming increasingly more mobile. Smith Consulting Architects developed an “Industrial Urban Park” design theme essentially an urban park environment within the existing industrial building.

The primary structural steel frame of the 1981-vintage building was, for the most part, retained, and the exterior was clad with a glass and metal panel curtainwall system. Much of the existing roof structure was also retained as part of this adaptive reuse project.

The primary structural steel frame of the 1981-vintage building was, for the most part, retained, and the exterior was clad with a glass and metal panel curtainwall system.

The east and west entries into the building are well defined with red metal panels above the doors, creating an interesting contrast to the curtain wall system and also acting as a wayfinding element for the many building entries. A 28-foot-high, perforated stainless steel screen integrating Petcos logo, including dog and cat “Ruff” and “Mews,” highlights the main entry while providing a prominent branding element.

The entry lobby, with a suspended wood blade ceiling and adjacent coffee kiosk, opens into a large atrium or “community park” that extends from the lower level to a height of more than 45 feet, created by removing and replacing the building structure in this area. Opposite the lobby in this atrium are terraces that function for informal meetings, dining, or large company events.

A large video wall sits opposite the terraces, with a bridge crossing the atrium at the main level, connecting the east and west sides of the building. The community park is furnished with natural daylight from a large panel skylight system that maximizes natural daylight, beneficial not only for employees health and productivity but also for their pets wellbeing.

The football field-sized, centrally located atrium allows daylight to filter into the upper and lower floors and serves as a community area that can be used for many purposes, much like a park would. The bridge across the atrium, as well as elements and materials found in outdoor spaces, are emulated in the terraces stone and wood walls, carpet patterns, and wall colors of the interior, creating continuity of the industrial urban park theme throughout the property.

The large floor plate created a circulation challenge, which was addressed with a network of diagonal paths. Within this network, departments become “neighborhoods,” with travel between them easy and efficient. At the intersection of paths, there are “connection hubs” 10 total that provide gathering spots for informal discussions, interdepartmental interaction, and break areas, as well as copy centers for the various departments.

A bridge crossing the atrium at the main level connects the east and west sides of the building.

The exterior provides a diversity of settings, ranging from an outdoor dining area to natural sitting areas, a basketball court, three dog parks, and a jogging trail, all affording employees and their pets options that best suit their personality or mood on a particular day. The architectural design integrates interior and exterior spaces, bringing the outdoors in and allowing the exterior spaces to function as work environments.

Additional amenities on the site include a fitness center, full-service cafe with interior dining space that opens to the exterior dining area, photo studio, electric car charging stations, and an 850-kilowatt, roof-mounted solar panel system, which provides more than 60 percent of the buildings energy needs.

Were told the new facility is functioning well for Petco. All the employees cubicles are sized to fit their needs, and every employee who has a pet is provided with a built-in gate to constrain their pets to their office space. When weve visited recently, the atmosphere has been calm and quiet, and dogs are on their best behavior. They seem content, getting to hang out with their owners all day.

I was privileged to serve as vice president-in-charge for Smith Consulting Architects, while Mark Langan was project executive, Arati Rangaswamy was project manager, Milos Makaric was project designer for the shell and site, and Andrew Tarango served as project designer of the interior spaces.

Project consultants included Wiseman and Rohy as structural engineer, RBF as civil engineer, MPE as electrical engineer, McParlane & Associates as mechanical and plumbing engineer, and Ridge Landscape Architects as landscape architect.

Scott Cairns is vice president, Smith Consulting Architects ( In addition to corporate headquarters and office facilities, the firm has specialized expertise in retail, research and development, life science, medical, manufacturing, and industrial facilities. Smith Consulting Architects is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council with extensive expertise in sustainable design.